It seems year in and year out with these Blackhawks, the spot that keeps coming up as a need is that center hole on the second line. It was filled mainly by Patrick Sharp in 2009-10, before Tomas Kopecky spent a good chunk of time at that spot last season, along with Sharp and occasionally Michael Frolik late in the season.
The free agent market was thin as a whole this offseason and unless you’re in Philadelphia, Minnesota, or San Jose, there weren’t too many earth shattering trades to be made. That means while the Blackhawks did a fantastic job adding some brawn and plenty of depth, they were unable to add a real impact player on that second line.
But the money is there and the Blackhawks have the system to make a trade at midseason if need be. Stan Bowman and Joel Quenneville have already noted that they are comfortable where they are with center.
What we will likely see is Patrick Sharp playing in the middle on that second line to start the season, and rightfully so. He set a career high in points last year playing plenty of time on the wing, but he’s a more-than-capable center. He won 48 percent of his 500+ faceoffs last season and almost 52 percent of the 466 he took in ’09-’10.
While Sharp might be the answer at the second line center spot, it’s important to not overlook the fact that being able to play Sharp on that second line keeps Dave Bolland in the role he’s excelled in over the past few seasons, centering the third line.
Over the past couple of years, many have hoped that Bolland would eventually develop into a second line center, especially given the fact that he makes a bit over $3 million a year, a bit of an overpayment for a guy who hasn’t been able to make that jump to line no. 2.
But the Blackhawks would be much better served to keep Bolland in his defensive role on the third line. We’ve seen the impact he can bring on the ice and how he can change a playoff series. In the Western Conference finals against San Jose in 2009-10, he did a wonderful job shutting down Sharks stars Joe Thornton and Dany Heatley.
Aside from Chicago, though, Bolland is best known in Vancouver for what he has done the past two years, especially in this year’s first round matchup between the two sides, the third consecutive year the two teams have met in the playoffs.
After not playing in the first three games of the series with a concussion, Bolland returned and made a world of difference as the Blackhawks nearly stole the series from the Canucks after a 3-0 deficit. Bolland played well offensively, made the Sedin twins invisible, and gave Dan Hamhuis one giant headache.
If things go as expected, the Blackhawks could have their centers set for the season opener. Of course, Jonathan Toews will be on the top line, possibly Sharp on the second, Bolland on the third, and Marcus Kruger on the fourth line.
Even if that’s not the way the Blackhawks start the season, and Bolland begins the season on the second line, there’s no question that Bolland will be back in his third line role once the postseason begins, where he can play as big an impact as anyone else on the ice.